Interview with Coretta Scott King
QUESTION 11
JACKIE SHEARER:

Did your husband feel constrained about coming out so publicly against the war before 1967 and if he did, how come?

CORETTA SCOTT KING:

Yes, ah, I think it's important to realize that, that Martin for a long time, for many years, had really wanted to take a position, a strong position against the war. He had discussed it, ah, in the SCLC Board Meetings, with his colleagues, ah, and got reactions that, ah, were strongly opposed to him doing it because they felt like, you know, it was not connected with civil rights. Most people felt that civil rights, ah, and the peace issue were two separate pieces. And Martin knew that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and as he said, "I've fought too long, ah, to, ah, against segregation, ah, to now end up segregating my moral concerns." So, ah, he was very, very concerned always about the question of, of the injustice of war and this particular one he felt, ah, had a tremendous affect on, ah, the lives of people in this country who were poor and disadvantaged. Ah, and, and he felt that, you know, he had to make that connection for people. And it was event- eventually affecting, ah, you know, the whole climate in this country. Because there were a series of, ah, of riots that were, that had broken out in various cities around the country between '65 and, ah, '67. There had been quite a number. And, ah, so he felt that it was, there was a very direct connection. I think he had come to a point where he felt as if he had, you know, no choice if he were, ah, going to be true to his own convictions and his own conscience, that he had to make a statement, he had to take, make a public stand against this, ah, very inhumane and unjust war as he said. Ah, he did not get the support from his colleagues or from any of his, ah, SCLC Board members that he would have liked. As a matter of fact I think most of them went along but they didn't agree with him. And he finally decided that, ah, you know, he had to take this position. And on April 4th, 1967, ah, he made a far reaching statement at the Riverside Church in New York, ah, in which he, ah, he talked about the Vietnam conflict and why he was taking the position. And, ah, shortly, very shortly there was condemnation from all quarters, both Black and White leaders across this country. It was a very agonizing period for him. Ah, because, ah, ah, you know, most of the people that he'd worked with, ah, leadership, for other organizations, made public statements, ah, against Martin Luther King, Jr--They felt that, ah, you know, he didn't know enough about foreign policy to speak about it, that he needed to stick to civil rights. Ah, and of course, ah, ah, he knew he had made the right decision and he was willing, I think, to, to suffer whatever the consequences might be, even the loss of funds to his organization. He knew that was going to happen and it did. Ah, SCLC's contributions suddenly went way, way down and we had to take some special measures to try to solicit support from some of our peace friends. Ah, I had been very much involved in the peace movement. He had encouraged me to be active since 1962. Ah, I had been the family spokesperson on the peace issues, having gone to the, ah, the, the Disarmament Conference, the Seventeen Nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva in 1962 as one of 50 American housewives. And from that point on, ah, appeared in rallies and marches, ah, between Washington and New York, ah, through 19- up until 1967, when he took his position. And I think his feeling was that if I was speaking out on the peace issue, then, ah, at least there was a King person, family person, who is, ah, who is, ah, you know, speaking to the issue. And somehow he, he felt a little bit more comfortable with my doing it and his not doing it but not really totally comfortable and totally relieved, and he said, as he said, he was the happiest person in all the world when he could finally come to a point where he could publicly, ah, make a far reaching statement against the war and condemn it. And, ah, that was the time when he felt, I think, in his own conscience, that he had done what he knew was right to do.